MODULE 2: Civil Society, the Church, and Peace Processes


Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a growing appreciation of the critical role of civil society actors in people-to-people peacebuilding, and in directly and indirectly supporting formal and informal peace processes. Increasingly, active engagement by civil society actors (Track 2 and Track 3 diplomacy) is considered an important factor in addressing the fact that half of peace settlements fail within five years.  In many countries embroiled in conflict, the Catholic Church is a leading civil society actor.  In South Sudan and Colombia, the churches often play an indirect role, organizing local, regional and national peace processes for civil society that complement official peace processes.  

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the role of religious and civil society actors, such as NGOs, civic associations, and tribal leaders in peace processes.
  • Distinguish between the roles of Track 2 civil society actors and Track 1 actors (governments and leaders of armed groups) and what both sets of actors can bring to the table.
  • Evaluate the specific roles that Church and civil society actors should play in formal peace processes?  Should they have a seat at the negotiating table, provide input into the negotiations without a formal role, and/or advocate to influence the negotiations or in support of a peace agreement? 

Discussion Guide Questions 

  • Why should religious and civil society actors, such as NGOs, civic associations, and tribal leaders, be involved in peace processes? What do these Track 2 actors bring to the table that Track 1 actors (governments and leaders of armed groups) do not? What do Track 1 actors offer that Track 2 cannot?                   
  • What specific role should Church, and civil society actors play in formal peace processes? A seat at the negotiating table? Input into the negotiations without a formal role? Advocacy to influence the negotiations or in support of a peace agreement?
  • What are the Church’s particular strengths/ assets when it comes to engaging in peace processes? What are its limitations?
  • Is it more appropriating for a lay group, like the Sant’Egidio Community, to be involved in peace processes than a bishops’ conference?  

Peacebuiding Terms Sheet

Primary Sources

  • John Paul Lederach,"The Long Journey Back to Humanity: Catholic Peacebuilding with Armed Actors,” in Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis, Robert J. Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby, Gerard F. Powers, eds, (Orbis, 2010)
    Drawing on the peacebuilding experience of four Catholic peacebuilders in Colombia, northern Uganda, and the southern Philippines, this chapter by a leading practitioner-scholar of peacebuilding examines what is distinctive about Catholic approaches to engaging armed actors, both governments and rebels.
    Long Journey Back To Humanity
  • Andrea Bartoli, “NGOs and Conflict Resolution,” in The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution, Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk, I. William Zarman, eds, (SAGE, 2001)
    This book chapter explores one important role NGOs play in conflict resolution: direct mediation in peace processes.  It focuses on lessons learned from the work of four NGOs:  the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic community in Rome best known for its role in the 1992 peace accord in Mozambique; the Carter Center; the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue; and the Crisis Management Initiative. Access your institution's library for e-book access.
  • Tom Bamat on CRS Catholic peacebuilding on extractives, Sudan, University engagement
    Justice and Peacebuilding work try to mitigate conflict, so it does not become violence. Learn more on the scope of CRS does this through a YouTube video.
  • Hector Fabio Henao Gaviria, “'And They Shall Make War No More’: Lessons about Peace-Making and Overcoming Conflict from Colombia,” New Blackfriars 96:1062 (March 2015): 177–191
    This paper describes the background to the last fifty years of violence in Columbia and identifies its causes in inequality, poverty and displacement. It then explores the ways in which the Catholic Church has been prominent in developing processes of peacebuilding that include “accompaniment” of the victims to include them in structures of citizen participation. It ends with theological and pastoral reflections on how this can be enabled practically in the Columbian context.
  • Maryann Cusimano Love, "Africa Rising," America, May 16, 2011

Secondary Resources

  • CRS, "What is Peace?"
    People across southern Sudan answer a simple and profound question: What is peace? While each has a unique answer, they all demonstrate eagerness to bring peace to Sudan.
  • CRS, "Congo: The Road to Recovery"
    Catholic Relief Services Programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo show how recovery and sustainability are now a reality for the Congolese people, though much more help is needed in this war-torn region.
  • Diana Chigas, “Track II (Citizen) Diplomacy,” Beyond Intractability, August 2003
    This article provides a helpful introduction to Track 1 ½ diplomacy (civil society actors working with official governmental processes), Track 2 (unofficial, informal activities by civil society actors to contribute to peace among conflicting groups), and Track 3 (unofficial, informal interventions for peace at the grassroots level).
  • Peter van Tuijl, “Civil Society and the Power to Build Peaceful and Inclusive Societies,” in Civil Society, Peace and Power, David Cortright, Melanie Greenberg, and Laurel Stone, eds. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)
    Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • Myla Leguro and Hyunjin Deborah Kwak, “Unlikely Partners for Conflict Transformation: Engaging the Military as Stakeholders for Peace in Mindanao,” in Civil Society, Peace and Power, David Cortright, Melanie Greenberg, and Laurel Stone, eds. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)
    Access your institution's library for this resource.
  • Peacebuilding Integration Course: Five-Day Training. (Catholic Relief Services, November 22, 2016)
    CRS developed this training in response to very practical needs in the field and has implemented it successfully in two distinct settings: (1) a conflict context in which development grants would be forged by a consortium of organizations, and (2) a conflict context in which CRS aims to incorporate peacebuilding and/or conflict sensitivity throughout all of its programming and into every single one of its projects. The training is focused on addressing situations of widespread violence, but it can also help prevent social divisions and tensions from erupting into violence and develop holistic responses to disasters or to the stark inequities that impede inclusive human development. It helps raise individual and organizational awareness of conflict dynamics, and promotes the knowledge and skills needed for effective peacebuilding action. It should also strengthen comprehensive accountability to those in need.
  • Integrating Peacebuilding, Governance and Gender for Influence and Impact: Experiences and Lessons from Recent Cases (Catholic Relief Services, May 30, 2017)
    This volume provides an important contribution to evidence-based learning by providing three case studies that illustrate how CRS integrates peacebuilding, governance and gender into its development and humanitarian programs. The accompanying essay, written by the University of Notre Dame Keough School of Global Affairs’ Dr. David Cortright, draws out the promising practices and lessons learned from the case studies and grounds them in the latest academic research.